Gone But Not Forgotten: National World War II Memorial

Dedicated on May 29, 2004, the National World War II Memorial is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, just east of the Reflecting Pool.

The memorial honors the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war, and the millions more who supported them on the home front.

On May 25, 1993, President Clinton signed Public Law 103-32 authorizing the American Battle Monuments Commission to build the memorial in or around Washington, D.C. The memorial is funded primarily by private contributions. Construction of the memorial began in September 2001 and it opened to the public on April 29, 2004.

The Second World War is the sole 20th-century event commemorated on the central axis of the National Mall, where it joins other beacons of freedom. The U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument are symbols of the nation’s founding in the 18th century; and the Lincoln Memorial and statue of Ulysses S. Grant honor the nation’s preservation in the 19th century.

The memorial’s design, by Friedrich St. Florian—an architect based in Providence, Rhode Island—was one of 404 entries received in an open design competition in 1996. St. Florian’s design is intended to create a powerful sense of place that is distinct, memorable, evocative, and serene. Its principal features are the Rainbow Pool and memorial plaza. Ceremonial steps and ramps lead into the plaza, and two 43-foot arches serve as markers and entries on the north and south ends of the plaza. Each state and territory from the World War II era, and the District of Columbia, are represented by one of 56 pillars adorned with bronze wreaths, celebrating the unity of the nation during the war.

Issued on the day of the memorial’s dedication, the postage stamp honoring the achievement and ideals of the Americans who served during WWII was created before the memorial was completed. “The memorial was barely a scratch in the dirt when I was given the assignment,” stamp artist Tom Engeman said. His computer-generated design was based on photographs he and art director Howard E. Paine took of a scale model of the memorial housed in a trailer on the construction site. The stamp art depicts one of the two large memorial arches with a curving row of pillars, set against a dramatic sunset.

What does the National World War II Memorial mean to you?

Decorated Soldiers Remembered for Selflessness and Leadership

Leading American ground troops to victory and displaying remarkable bravery and selflessness set the four men featured on the Distinguished Soldiers stamps (2000) apart. Their commitment to the U.S. Army led to major contributions during World War I and World War II, and has made them forever a part of our nation’s history.

John Leonard Hines was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on May 21, 1868. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1891.

After the United States entered World War I, Gen. John J. Pershing assigned Hines to the American Expeditionary Forces in France. An effective battle leader, Hines commanded the 4th Division in September 1918 during the American operations at Saint Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne. During World War I, Hines experienced a meteoric rise in rank as he was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel in May 1917, then to colonel, brigadier general, and, in August 1918, to major general. He assumed successively larger commands, from regiment to brigade, division, and finally, corps.

Hines served the U.S. Army with distinction for more than forty years in a full range of line, staff, and combat positions, advancing to the highest position in the Army when he succeeded General Pershing as Chief of Staff in 1924. Hines died on October 13, 1968, at the age of 100.

Alvin Cullum York was born on December 13, 1887, in the rural Tennessee community of Pall Mall. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, York was drafted into the Army.

York was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted from corporal to sergeant for his single-handed capture of German soldiers and their battery of machine guns in the Argonne forest on October 8, 1918. At that time, he was serving in the 82nd Division.

Sergeant York, a movie based on York’s life, was released in 1941. Gary Cooper won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the famous doughboy. Sergeant York died in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 2, 1964.

Omar Nelson Bradley was born in Clark, Missouri, on February 12, 1893. Bradley graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1915. He was the first in his class to receive a general’s star in 1941. After serving stateside during World War II, Bradley, then a major general, was assigned to the European forces under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In September 1943, Bradley was given command of the First Army after successfully leading troops in North Africa and during the invasion of Sicily, and led the First Army during the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944. A few months later, Bradley became commanding general of the Twelfth Army Group—at 1.3 million strong, it was the largest American field command in history.

In 1948, Bradley was named Army Chief of Staff. He became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1949. Bradley received his fifth star in September 1950. Bradley died in New York City on April 8, 1981.

Audie Leon Murphy was born on a sharecropper’s farm in northeast Texas on June 20, 1924. Murphy enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in the 3rd Infantry Division. On January 26, 1945, Murphy saved his company by single-handedly stopping a German attack during the Reduction of the Colmar Pocket in Alsace-Lorraine. For his bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for gallantry in action.

Murphy was the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. His decorations include the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the French Legion of Honor, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm. He also received a battlefield commission promoting him to 2nd lieutenant.

After World War II, Murphy appeared in numerous films, most notably The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and To Hell and Back (1955). Based on Murphy’s autobiography, To Hell and Back featured his experiences in the war. Audie Murphy died in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia, on May 28, 1971.

These men, along with millions of other soldiers who have come after them, helped make America the country it is today. Without their tireless dedication, our world might be very different. How would you choose to honor our servicemen and servicewomen?

The World War II Photographs of W. Eugene Smith

Highly respected for his brilliant and compassionate photo-essays, W. Eugene Smith (1918–1978) was one of America’s most acclaimed photojournalists. During World War II, he gained a reputation for pictures that showed both the horror of war and the heroism of soldiers under fire, including “Front Line Soldier with Canteen, Saipan, June 1944″  (photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona).

That photograph appeared on the Masters of American Photography stamp pane issued in 2002, but it also posed a bit of a mystery: Just who is that soldier? His identity remained hazy until U.S. Postal Service researchers talked to a curator at a photography archive in Tucson, Arizona. She was able to identify the marine in the photograph after she happened, simply by chance, to see a picture from the same shoot in a restaurant called Evangelo’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As it turned out, not only was the restaurant named for the marine in the photograph, Evangelo Klonis, but it was also owned by his son, Nick.

When the U.S. Postal Service contacted Nick Klonis, he was thrilled to hear about the stamp. He told researchers that he’s the spitting image of his father—and that he was looking forward to hanging a copy of the stamp in the restaurant.

Not surprisingly, Derry Noyes designed the Masters of American Photography stamp pane with just that sort of intention in mind. “As you take each stamp off the pane,” she said, “it should feel like a picture in a frame.”

The pane honored 20 of our country’s most important and influential photographers and included examples of portrait, documentary, landscape, and fine art photography. “The stamp pane serves not only as a history of the art of photography in America, but also as a capsule history of our country,” Noyes said.

Smith’s photograph was published in Life magazine on August 28, 1944. It’s still just as powerful today.

W. Eugene Smith photograph © The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith

The U.S. Navy’s Underwater Fleet

May is National Military Appreciation Month, and all month long we’re looking back at stamps issued in honor of the nation’s armed forces and dedicated servicemen and servicewomen. Did you know that the first prestige booklet ever created by the U.S. Postal Service had a military theme?

Issued in 2000, U.S. Navy Submarines: A Century of Service to America recounts a century of design advances, from the U.S. Navy’s first submarine (the 54-foot USS Holland, purchased in 1900) to modern Trident “Boomers” (Ohio-class submarines carrying more than half of America’s strategic weapons).

The USS Holland, which was driven by an internal combustion engine on the surface, switched to a battery-powered electric motor when diving. During its final trial this vessel submerged in 12 seconds, ran a straight course at six knots for ten minutes, headed back toward her starting point, and resurfaced. Named for her inventor, John P. Holland, the warship had a crew of six plus the skipper.

After Holland, sub designers not only made improvements that increased the range of their vessels but also introduced diesel engines, allowing submarines to play a larger role in naval conflict. In World War I, for example, the German navy used its U-boats so effectively that they threatened to cut the supply lines between North America and Europe. The sinking of the British liner RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, was one of the catalysts that helped bring the U.S. into World War I.

By then, the U.S. Navy had some 50 subs, including 153-foot K-boats and 165-foot L-boats. During and after the war, the Navy continued to develop sub classes on up the alphabet, like this S-class sub:

The 307-foot Gato-class subs, armed with six torpedo tubes forward and four astern, were among the most important submarine designs of World War II. To help make up for the many surface ships lost in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy relied heavily on its submarines; despite early problems with faulty torpedoes, the subs fought fiercely and had much success.

After the war, many innovations were made in sub design, and perhaps the most important was the introduction of nuclear power. In the mid-1970s, the 362-foot Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines began patrolling the world’s oceans.

Manned by highly skilled officers and crews, Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines have the ability to launch Trident missiles with deadly accuracy over great distances.

Did you collect the submarines prestige booklet when it was issued in 2000? What other kinds of prestige booklets would interest you?

Berlin Airlift Proved Power of Peaceful Military Operations

One of the first major tests of the Cold War, the Berlin Airlift overcame ideological and logistical obstacles. The 1948-49 Allied mission was an extremely significant and impressive peacetime supply effort in an early standoff with the Soviet Union.

Following World War II, Germany was occupied by the four major Allies from the war in Europe—the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Germany’s capital, Berlin, had been split into four sectors as well, but lay deep inside the Russian zone. After a currency dispute in the summer of 1948, the Soviets blocked land and water access to the city, leaving only narrow air corridors for Allied access. The Soviet goal was not so much to starve the people of Berlin as it was to make them depend on Soviet resources. Rather than resorting to armed conflict or conceding altogether, Allied forces united to airlift food and fuel to the blockaded city. The mission—also known as Operation Vittles—proved a huge success. The airlifted goods supplied Berliners for more than a year, ultimately forcing the blockade’s removal.

The logistics of the operation were difficult, to say the least. Yet the Allied effort was remarkably persistent—and consistent—in meeting the challenge. Planes commonly arrived in Berlin at three-minute intervals around the clock. Every single day of the airlift, at least one transport delivered supplies—regardless of weather, maintenance difficulties, or threatening maneuvers by Soviet aircraft. During the operation, the airlift delivered a total of nearly 2.5 million tons of goods. Led by Major General William H. Turner, the airlift spanned the 11 tense months of the blockade and continued for four more as surface transportation was restored.

“The Berlin Airlift was definitely capable of either breaking the blockade,” Turner said of the mission’s objectives, “or of maintaining life in Berlin while negotiations were going on.”

In May 1949, the Soviets finally lifted the blockade, proving the success of the peaceful, humanitarian mission as the dust settled in Germany.